Understanding the gospels is a matter of being on the lookout for what the author is saying. It is not as if you are trying to make sense of favorite stories from the life of Jesus. The author has an agenda in the best sense of the word and is using his literary skill to point you to it. They might pose questions in the mouths of their characters. After Jesus calms the storm one of his disciples asks the question that Inigo Montoya asked the Dread Pirate Roberts in Princess Bride, “Who are you?” Of all that was said on the boat ride the gospel writer chose to include that specific statement so that we would ask it too. When people are interacting with Jesus it is wise to ask question like, am I more like that Pharisee in my response to Jesus or like the Samaritan woman at the well. These are just a start. Mostly it is a matter of reading a text as you would any other intelligently written literature. The man difference is that it is completely true and authoritative for our lives.
One last thing which I think is important is the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Bible. There is a lot of confusion over this. I have gone to a Christian college and am going to seminary and I don’t think they did a good job explaining this. Here is my opinion, which may of course be wrong. Normally the Holy Spirit works through abilities we already have. If you haven’t read the Bible then the Holy Spirit will probably not bring to mind a verse. It is not that He can’t or won’t, it is just the exception not the norm. So too as you grow in your ability to read, understand, and apply what you read in the Bible the Holy Spirit will help you to do so beyond what you could have done on your own.
For example pretend that after reading this blog you start reading the book of Mark and you come to Mark 10:17-18 which says, “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Is Jesus saying that he isn’t God? You have already read Mark 4 in which Jesus calms the storm and a disciple asks the “Who are you?” question. The only possible answer is of course God, but all this happened a week ago and your mind is preoccupied with work tomorrow. The Holy Spirit, however, supernaturally brings it to the surface. We already know that the author has alerted you to that fact that Jesus is God so he is doing something besides contradicting himself here. Then the Holy Spirit reminds you that Jesus didn’t say he wasn’t God just that only God is good and this man has called Jesus good. He is asking a question to get this man’s mind going about who Jesus is. Has Jesus don’t anything sinful so far in this book? In fact by saying that no one is good except God alone Jesus is calling attention to His being God or at least the Son of God, which I mentioned before is what I think is Mark’s purpose in writing this book. You go on to apply this to your life with the help of the Holy Spirit all the while thinking about how brilliant you are for figuring this out, which of course is not actually true because the Holy Spirit gave you a bunch of help. Rather than a magic or mystical guide to the Scripture I think the Holy Spirit works more often like the hypothetical situation above. He comes alongside like a silent tutor, working with you to discover things which by yourself you could not have seen.